Should you be wary of ‘price comparison’ websites?

Rusting vintage car beside well-kept vintage car outside their lockups

Price comparison websites offer an incredibly valuable service and their popularity is well-deserved, writes motoring journalist Iain Robertson, but he wonders about their ‘transparency’, when there are many consumer axes to grind.

Recent years have seen a new breed of Internet site evolving, which gives independent garages the chance to bid for car repair business. However, ‘review-type’ websites are increasingly under-fire for not revealing all that they should.

Comparing services based upon price alone may be suitable for electricity and gas, as you do not get a superior, or inferior, grade of domestic supplies, as an example. Even insurance policies can be compared, provided that you check the small print and you are getting the equivalent level of cover. However, it is possible for standards to vary considerably between garages.

The first issue that arises is that you do not require any minimum formal qualification to repair a motorcar. Secondly, although there are some exceptions, most replacement car parts do not have to comply with any kind of technical standard whatsoever and, if you cannot prove that parts have been fitted that meet the original maker’s quality standards, you do risk voiding any remaining warranty on your vehicle.

Counterfeit and sub-standard car parts are of major concern in the industry. In addition, can you be sure that the garage you employ possesses the correct tools, especially the expensive diagnostic hardware needed to work on your vehicle?

If your car needs a replacement timing belt, a good technician will establish that not only should the belt be replaced but also the tensioner and idler pulleys, plus the water pump. The engine coolant will also need to be renewed.

In such a case, the price comparison quotation might be £350. Yet, another garage will believe that it can gain a bigger profit by replacing the belt alone and quotes you £250. Going with the cheaper option becomes attractive. Two years’ later, after you left a glowing online review, the old water pump seizes, causing the timing belt to fail, thus destroying the engine. The garage refuses to repair it, because you did not specify that the other parts be replaced and that the work is deemed to have lasted a ‘fair amount of time’.

Mr Clutch is very clear about its cambelt replacement policy (prices start from just £179.95). It hides nothing from the customer and recommends the replacement of ancillary components, because it knows that one thing can often lead to another. Mr Clutch will never promise to be ‘the cheapest’ but it will be honest and provide the best value for money and those are two of the most transparent aspects that most comparisons tend to ignore.

Mr Clutch takes a personal responsibility for the supply of only the highest quality parts, so that original manufacturer warranties can remain intact. Therefore, you should be aware that the ‘cheapest quotation’ is unlikely to be the best option. Always query the rate before authorising any work but carry out your research on any consumer feedback, before giving it your business. Price comparison sites do serve a useful purpose but, it is up to you to exercise caution and Mr Clutch is willing and able to provide all the help you need.